Tag Archives: books

2011 Reading

The end of the year is near and its time to review. This year I have been diligently recording the books I have read in GoodReads and was astonished when I checked my stats to find out that I have recorded 101 reads this year with a whopping 29,894 pages. Of course there are discrepancies, like books that I did not finish, but made a good effort to read (6), a picture book I was reviewing as a Early Reviewer for LibraryThing (1), and the audio books I listen to while commuting to work (12). Regardless, still a valiant effort. I have noticed that with the increase of reading also comes the increase of lower stars: 18-two stars (OK books) and 7-one star (I didn’t like).

My longest book read was The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by Gordon Dahlquist at 760 pages. And my all time favorite read was The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel.



13th Tale a passive read

I’m currently reading The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield for my monthly book club and have been boggled by my unenthusiastic response to reading a book I had suggested. From the description of the story about a amateur biographer being unexpectedly asked to write the biography of a famous popular author, Vida Winter and in return you find out about dark family secrets of her life growing up on a family estate. This was one of the suggestions for our Halloween read, for a group with a member who easily frights from more scary readings, which I thought would be atmospheric in the telling. Unfortunately, the atmosphere is lacking and in it’s place are clinical descriptions of places, people, and feelings, if you can call it feelings, rather than just questions to suggest feelings.

I have noticed that instead of getting sucked into the telling of this story, I am able to casually skim the contents and still get the full idea of the story. I am a very visual reader and I enjoy allowing the writing of a story to engulf my senses and carry me off on a journey that doesn’t end after I set the book down. I enjoy mulling over the plot, characters, and scenarios crafted in the story long after I have finished reading the book pondering the ‘What ifs…”, alternative endings, or extended scenes that may have been left out. For me, reading and watching movies is a very similar experience when done well. So, when a book is technically descriptive rather than using words to evoke atmosphere, mood, feeling, and place; I feel insulted that the author doesn’t allow me some part of the reading experience and am regulated to a passive reading experience.

What I wonder at, is a passive reading experience what most people want? This book has been not only on the NY Bestseller list (which I know doesn’t really mean much anymore), but has been recommended by several libraries and booksellers as a “Bookclub Choice” book. I haven’t had my bookclub meeting yet, but it will be interesting to hear their take on the book and if they were aware of the writing as much as me.

Wordstock Experience

Every year my husband and I like to attend Portland’s literary conference Wordstock. This year, I was only able to attend the Sunday conference due to work conflicts, but was still able to attend a few interesting panel discussion and listen to new authors readings.

The most interesting panel discussion was one that I had low expectations and became the best discussion I heard all day, What’s with America’s Sexual/Literary Hang-up? The panel was moderated by Viva Las Vegas, author of Magic Gardens: The Memoirs of Viva Las Vegas, with authors Steve Almond, Cheryl Strayed, and Lidia Yuknavitch.

I think what helped this panel in being so interesting was the insightful questions posed by Viva Las Vegas that kept the dialogue moving between serious and funny at all times. At one instance the panelists discussed how they have had to handle censoring words in their books for publishers/editors or even book buyers; to what their turns them on. Though I do feel another reason this panel was so interesting is that these authors have had to justify their works many times and their use of sex in their writings and through this process they have had to think about this topic more often than most and how it affects their end product.

Our next panel discussion was Move Over, Holden Caufield which was moderated by John Corey Whaley and included authors Blake Nelson, Jen Violi, and Anna Solomon. This panel was to discuss the “coming-of-age” story and it’s appeal. As I said from the previous panel, a good moderator goes a long way to a successful panel, unfortunately the questions posed by John didn’t always spur our authors to ready answers, which I don’t specifically view as soley John’s fault. I also think that in this situation, most of these authors haven’t really thought intensely on the genre in which they write in. So on a whole, this panel was mostly a digression on what they like about teens and writing about them. Continue reading Wordstock Experience

Top 10 Influential Books

I had a young patron ask for book  recommendations that would “make me think.” This got me thinking about the books I discovered on my own and read as a teenager that influenced me in becoming the person I am today. So here’s my top ten list in no particular order:

  1. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
  2. The Stranger – Albert Camus
  3. The Wall and other stories  – Jean-Paul Sarte
  4. The Trial – Franz Kafka
  5. Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
  6. The Lover – Margueritte Duras
  7. Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
  8. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
  9. “I have no mouth and I must scream” – Harlan Ellison
  10. The Turn of the Screw – Henry James

I will say there were books that were on the mandatory reading lists such as 1984 and Animal Farm by George Orwell, The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, and Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and To kill a mockingbird by Harper Lee.

There are a few books that I read later in life which I think should also get a mention, but either weren’t written when I was young or I didn’t know about them:

  • Mrs. Dalloway – Virginia Woolf
  • Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgako
  • Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Sputnik Sweetheart – Haruki Murakami
  • Lolita – Vladimir Nabakov
  • The Hearing Trumpet – Leonora Carrington

Crass Capitalism Alert!!

The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith is the latest in the a new posting series on examples of  product placement in young adult novels. It’s my way of creating a running tally of incidents as I come across them while reading young adult novels.

I found Starbucks making their first appearance on page 9 used by Connor making a request to Jack, “Bring me a Starbucks.” I do wonder what Jack brought back,  not a Double Mocha Frapp with no whip or a Double non-fat vanilla soy latte? Such a blatant misuse of the word SCREAMS product placement. To use the term in such a way isn’t even a slang term referring to the chain, like Buckies.

The second incidence in on page 32, when Jack notices two large (not Grande??) cups of black coffee from Starbucks. Though in both instances the removal of the chains lovely name would change nothing from the overall description or plotting of the story. So why is in necessary, to encourage teens to stop by their place and not any other of the myriad of coffee shops for their caffeinated bliss?

As for the rest of the book, I gave up on the read after it having to endure the forced advertisement and the feeling that the story was going to be trip down the Cuckoo Nest (think Buffy the Vampire Slayer “Normal Again” episode)

or the Dream Apocalypse (think Alice through the Looking Glass or Inception).

I decided that I would sit down with another book and enjoy my fair trade coffee :)

Review Bloating

Pictorial Review by Nickolas Murray, ca. 1936; George Eastman House Collection

So I have been a part of Librarything Early Reviewers for about six months and post reviews on my Goodreads account. I enjoy reading and think I am getting better at writing useful and fair reviews of books. But as I look at at other reviewers on both Librarything and Goodreads and have found inflation of ratings compared to the written review.

For example, I was reading the first review for Ready Player One by Ernest Cline by Joel who starts off explaining how he doesn’t understand the concept for the book:

There’s this conceit that keeps popping up in sci-fi dystopia novels that it is only a matter of time before we will all be glued to our virtual reality goggles 24 hours a day as elaborate MMPORPGs slowly take over the world.

I think this is stupid. No matter how increasingly ubiquitous computers become, I just don’t foresee Second Life replacing the first on…

Which by paragraph four, he give kudos to the author for convincing him of this premise since this is the main plot of the book. Though he later goes on to describe the problems he found with the book which I summarize as badly written,exhaustive description written in the style of an Wikipedia entry, derisive plot points such as including the token YA-love interest, an continuity errors, which he later throws out the window by saying:

All that stuff: basically doesn’t matter. At all. I still loved the crap out of every page.

And in the end gives the book a whopping 5 stars, even though a three star rating (liked it) seems like a good rating for the review, maybe four (really liked it), but five for (it’s amazing)! I would think that a five star rating would not only be a fun read but you would have not noticed any glaring flaws in the book. I guess in today’s society criticizing bad workmanship is faux paus, especially if you got the book for free.

Of course on the other extreme, are those reviewers who just don’t like a concept so they condemn a book without taking into account the good qualities and that it may just not be the right type of book for you as a reader and state the reasons why. Even bad reviews can convince a person to try a book if they try to be objective to some degree.

I wonder if the extreme rating comes from our collective up bringing in a society that objective criticism is considered elitist and not playing by the “be nice” rule we have been instructed with since childhood. More likely, that we just haven’t been taught how to look objectively at our entertainment. The unfortunate part of this is that libraries and book vendors are now embedding these reviews in their catalogs giving readers a unrealistic estimate of the book.

Library and book T-shirts

There are quite a few shirts with lovely quips that readers and librarians find humorous. Threadless.com is one of the places I like to find great t-shirts. Here’s a few that I find fun.

Movies: Ruining the Book Since 1920 by Jayson Dougherty

I like this one, though I do like movies just as much.

A Book Lover by Lim Heng Swee
November Was A Good Month by Mike Sayre

Book check-out humor from the past.

Attack of Literacy! by Joshua Kemble

This last one is favorite if only it wasn’t printed in yellow.

Finding mythical gods in our modern world

Hermes portion from United Nations exhibit put on by OWI in Rockefeller Plaza, New York, N.Y., 1943, photographed by Marjory Collins. Library of Congress.

Are you and adult who has enjoyed reading Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series and are ready to read something similar for adults? Here’s a list of adult novels set in our time with mythological gods from Greek, Roman, and other cultures living amongst us with humor, wit, and adventure.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman: Just released from prison, Shadow encounters Mr. Wednesday, an enigmatic stranger who seems to know a lot about him, and when Mr. Wednesday offers him a job as his bodyguard, Shadow accepts and is plunged into a dark and perilous world.

Discord’s Apple by Carrie Vaughn: Discovering a magical storeroom in a house she is destined to inherit, Evie finds a cache of mythological and legendary artifacts that she is charged to keep out of the hands of villains who threaten the world with apocalyptic violence.

Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips: Alive and well in the twenty-first century in spite of the need to hold jobs to support themselves, the twelve Greek gods of Olympus work as dog walkers, TV psychics, and sex operators before a pair of humans are swept up in a battle of wills between Aphrodite and Apollo. Continue reading Finding mythical gods in our modern world

Book Review Anxiety

I have been speeding through the library books I posted earlier, some have been really fun and exciting to read, one of them not so much. This unfortunate book came recommended from Powell’s bookstore with flying colors and had list of well liked authors all applauding it’s creation, but for me it was badly focused, lacking conflict, or interesting character and physically fragmented which kept bringing me out of the world without a good reason. A book for all standards most people would have just set aside and moved on to the next book on their nightstand. Well, not me.

You see, I have a hard time writing bad reviews for books and in general not finishing a book, even when the construction of the story is frustrating me. I do not see myself as a writer and am in awe at those who can create new worlds, characters, and stories with words. I understand this type of profession is not an easy one and so I respect the work and perseverance in creating and getting published a story. So when reading a story that has been thoughtfully created, written well, and has some beautiful passages, I try to push through hoping that maybe the writer hasn’t found their grove yet.

Unfortunately, I end up complaining and pointing out examples of bad construction allusions that fail, or unsympathetic protagonists that taste like day-old bread to my very patient partner. I am then reminded, that I do not have to finish the book, nor do I have to like the book. This is all fine and dandy when I decide to place book down that is three quarters read, but then I have to write the review.

Now most children, have hear the phrase, “Now, be nice.” over and over growing up. And to that years of Catholic guilt and I become an anxious book reviewer for the books I loathe. I understand the idea of a balanced book review: what you liked, what you don’t like, overall how you felt about the book, la, la, la. It’s just that the respect for writers and the understanding that not everyone likes the same types of books, keeps playing in my head. I don’t want to dissuade a person from reading a book, just because I don’t like it, but I do like objective book reviews or the myriad of This great reviews, the cryptic praise that means nothing, or the too in-depth review revealing all the spoilers for anyone unlucky to read them without knowing.

So what to do, how to balance my need to be respectful, objective, and brief. Until I get better of balancing these things, I guess I will have to live with the anxiety. Hopefully my current rate of reading will give much practice on Goodreads.

Confession of a Book addict

Since moving to Oregon and into a better public library system than in Georgia, I have become addicted to the libraries catalog “Place Hold” feature. I find books I am interested while strolling through Powell’s Bookstore in the catalog. For those I am not ready to read, I save the results to a list for checking out later. But if I see a book that has say, 70 requests for the book, I figure I might as well fall into queue now before it grows any bigger. The nice result is getting calls from the library saying a book I have forgotten about is waiting on a shelf for pick up. Yippee! No searching along the stacks trying to find a new book.

The problem is when you start working at a public library and now have access to two library cooperative catalogs. Now I have two systems pegged against each other to see who will get the book to me first. The result 4 books ready to pick up at the same time. Not to mention, the two owned books I have started and another library book already checked out that I have started.

I may need to rethink this strategy, or learn to read faster.

So what’s on the menu for the next few weeks:

A Letter of Mary (Mary Russell, #3)

  • The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer
  • A Letter of Mary (Mary Russell, #3) by Laurie King
  • The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown
  • The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
  • Hello Kitty Must Die by Angela S. Choi